On April 16 the Washington Post reports:
Nazia Ali says profiling has become a part of flying for her. She and her husband privately joke about how she’s subjected to additional Transportation Security Administration screening every time. But what happened last year was different.
Nothing they said to the crew or law enforcement waiting on the jet bridge mattered. A decision had already been made.
Delta first told reporters that a flight attendant had grown uncomfortable with the Alis because Faisal Ali was sweating, Nazia Ali was wearing a headscarf and at least one of them had used the word “Allah.” Then, the airline issued a statement affirming Delta’s commitment to equality, promising to refund the Alis’ money (they were rebooked on a direct flight to Cleveland the next day) and investigate the incident with care. Later, the airline emailed the Alis their findings: No discrimination occurred.
The couple were so troubled that last year, they drove to Canada and Florida to avoid flying. They also contacted CAIR and filed a civil rights complaint.
“We would not accept this in any other industry,” said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of CAIR Chicago, “but because of the magic word — ‘security’ — that they can flash, that shuts a lot of people up.”
That’s the word United Airlines used to explain why it removed Eaman and Mohamed Shebley and their three children from a plane at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport en route to a spring break trip to Washington in March 2016. The Lebanese American couple say United and its partner operator SkyWest gave them conflicting information about using a booster seat for their 2½-year-old daughter. After Mohamed Shebley spoke to crew members on the plane, one began asking questions Shebley found alarming.
“They started asking all sorts of odd things,” he recalled. “ ‘Where did you buy your tickets?’ ”
Eaman Shebley put the booster away. Over the next hour, flight attendants and then the captain told the family to leave the plane. The couple asked repeatedly for an explanation. Some in first class began to stand and point. A United crew member said the next step was to call police.
Nearby strangers tried to convince the crew that the Shebleys hadn’t been a problem. But another passenger, a white man, yelled, “Get off the plane, you all are going to jail,” Eaman Shebley said.
One of the couple’s children broke into tears. The Shebleys walked off the plane.
“Understand that had it not been for that decision,” said Rehab, “this could have been another dragging.”
On the jet bridge, the pilot told the Shebleys that they were noncompliant, a disruptive kind of security risk. Not long after, United had the Shebleys booked on a different flight to Washington.
After the trip, the couple contacted CAIR Chicago and filed a civil rights complaint and a lawsuit.
In an emailed response to The Post, United said, “Both SkyWest and United hold our employees to the highest standards of professionalism and have zero tolerance for discrimination.” In a separate statement, SkyWest added that “we ensure that all employees participate in training that supports our zero tolerance for discrimination.”
In the months since that flight, the Shebleys’ son has been anxious, a 9-year-old who needs every logistical detail before they travel. At school, some kids tease him for getting kicked off a plane.
Fair-skinned and blue-eyed, Eaman Shebley wonders whether her family would have been treated differently if she hadn’t worn a hijab.
That tangle of concerns is magnified across millions of Muslim Americans, Rehab said.
“These incidents do not happen in a vacuum,” said Brenda F. Abdelall, a staff member with Muslim Advocates. “They are byproducts of the world around us.”